What Lies Ahead for America?

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What Lies Ahead for America?

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The horrifying attacks on Sept. 11 in New York City and Washington, D.C., stunned the world. The terrorist assaults-the hijackings and suicide crashes of four domestic passenger jets-were the worst on any nation in history.

A collective national shock hung over the land as people tried to make sense of what had happened. No sooner had Americans begun to recover than another wave of horror began when anonymous envelopes carrying anthrax bacteria led to the infection of people in several cities and reached even into the offices of the U.S. Congress.

Television and radio stations broadcast continuous news coverage for days in attempts to explain the shocking events.

The country's sense of invincibility vanished in an instant. Suddenly people who were normally happy and confident grew apprehensive about their future. The old certainties were no more. Against a backdrop of a smoldering World Trade Center, the British magazine The Economist summed up the mood of the people and the new reality in a headline on its cover of Sept. 15: "The Day the World Changed."

Nothing has been the same since Sept. 11. Nothing will be the same in the foreseeable future.

Entering a new era

Americans rightly wondered what the future holds for the country. As is so often the case in the wake of a national catastrophe, a nation's strengths and weaknesses come to the fore. Americans came together after the atrocity. Rescuers labored around the clock in dangerous, distressing conditions to try to pull survivors from a mound of rubble some 12 stories high. Tens of thousands of people donated blood and items urgently needed by the Red Cross. On the streets of New York people hugged strangers and offered help in a time of unprecedented distress.

The president and the Congress came together, political rivalries temporarily forgotten, as both major political parties pledged themselves to vanquish those responsible. The military forces of the United States, Britain and other nations immediately began to pool their resources, determined to stamp out terrorism. America and its allies quickly launched a war against Afghanistan's ruling Taliban regime, which had long given refuge to Islamic terrorists.

President Bush warned the American people to prepare for a new kind of war, a war against an enemy that hides in the shadows, a war that would last a long time.

Strengths and weaknesses

Sometimes a country's greatest strengths can also become major liabilities. This is true of the United States. An awareness of its strengths and weaknesses will help us understand the present situation and the challenges that lie ahead for America and the rest of the civilized world.

A proper biblical background adds yet another dimension to understanding what the future holds. The three-part series entitled "America's Astounding Destiny" (which concludes in this issue beginning) reveals how the United States and Britain have fulfilled several major points of biblical prophecy. Genesis 49:22-23 in particular shows that the descendants of Joseph-the British and American peoples-were to grow into global superpowers, bringing prosperity to many other nations around the world.

At the same time, they would struggle to maintain peace, without which prosperity is difficult if not impossible. This passage of Scripture, along with other Bible prophecies, shows God's involvement in the development of these nations.

Today, however, the United States and other nations that sprang from Britain have largely turned away from God and are reaping the negative consequences of breaking His laws-again in accordance with biblical prophecies.

America's confidence was was hit hard by the attacks on New York and Washington. The long-term economic impact, devastating at first, remains to be seen.

The World Trade Center stood at the heart of New York's financial district, with New York itself the leading stock market in the world. In the first week after the market reopened, U.S. stocks collectively lost $1 trillion before rebounding several weeks later.

Many of the people killed worked in the financial markets. Years of experience and intellectual capital died in the rubble. Discussion about the economy no longer centered on whether the economy would slip into recession, but when-and how that would affect America's preeminence in the world.

By most measures American military strength has weakened considerably over recent years, following the pattern of the British Empire. As that empire expanded, so eventually British military commitments around the world increased. After World War II Britain was not able or willing to continue to act as the world's policeman. The United States took over the role, with Britain continuing to offer support to a close ally.

But the American military finds itself considerably overextended-especially since major military reductions in the last decade drastically cut numbers of available troops and combat aircraft, ships and armored vehicles.

Now both the United States and Britain have troops committed in various parts of the world that they increasingly need in the continuing struggle against terrorism. As they pull troops out of other areas, what will be the consequences? A significant danger is an unraveling of the world order created by the British and American leaders after World War II, threatening America's preeminence.

America's short memory

Another U.S. characteristic that has been a strength-and, increasingly, a weakness-is revealed in the biblical name for America, Manasseh, which means "forgetting." When the United States broke away from Britain, it set a course largely independent from Europe, avoiding "entangling alliances" as George Washington, America's first president, advised the country to do. This enabled America to concentrate on building the strongest and richest single nation in history.

When it comes to alliances, however, Americans have a tendency to forget. Yesterday's enemy can rapidly become today's friend-as in the case of Germany and Japan in the years immediately after World War II. The reverse is also true: Moscow became the enemy after standing as a valued ally in the war, only to become an ally again in the war on terrorism.

We see a similar pattern with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Twenty years ago the United States helped the Taliban's Islamic fundamentalists fight against Soviet forces; in recent months the arms the United States gave them have been turned on America, with America seeking Russian help against them after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The same was true with Iraq a decade ago. Ten years earlier the United States helped Iraq in its long war against Iran. Now, 10 years after the Gulf War, some of the allies who fought alongside the United States in the Persian Gulf have let America down in the conflict against terrorism because their national interests have since diverged. Fears of political instability have also increased among the more-conservative leaders in the Middle East, who are threatened by the rising forces of Islamic fundamentalism in their own countries.

School surveys show that Americans know little of their own history, let alone the complex and varied histories of the intertwining peoples and cultures of the world. It's as if history is irrelevant. Although lack of ties to the past was a strength when building a new nation out of the wilderness, it is a definite weakness in our present, quickly changing world. Failure to understand the rest of the world-and lessons of history-could prove disastrous.

Christendom vs. Islam

One of the great themes of history has been the on-again, off-again rivalry between Christendom and Islam, dating back to the beginnings of Islam in the early seventh century (see "The Birth and Spread of Islam").

No one familiar with history can credibly say that one side in this struggle conducted itself better than the other in the eyes of God. The two religions-Christianity and Islam-underlie two fundamentally different cultures that inevitably clash when they confront each other.

One concern frequently expressed since the attacks is that Western attacks on radical Islamic forces could unite Muslims against the West. In a worst-case scenario, Islamic fundamentalists could overthrow more- moderate Mideast regimes such as Egypt and Jordan-and oil-rich monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which could devastate Western petroleum-dependent economies. Interestingly, Daniel 11:40-44 indicates that Muslims in the Middle East at some point will be united against a common enemy (see "A Different World").

In recent times an added dimension to this historic struggle has been the increasing secularization of Christendom as the West has become more materialistic and hedonistic. The Islamic world resented domination by Christian nations during the colonial period but is even angrier at the secularization of its cultures by contemporary American culture (see "A Rising Tide of Islamic Fundamentalism").

As Americans and Europeans have turned further away from their traditional religious beliefs, they have tended to think that religious and cultural differences no longer matter. Americans especially seem to think their culture is superior and take it for granted that everyone else wants to be like them. While some do, this is not always the case. Many of the people in the African countries in which my wife and I have lived resented efforts by Americans to change them.

Even many of those who have moved to America resent its culture-they want to retain their traditions, values and religious beliefs. Sometimes they find this extremely difficult. Anger and frustration are the result. Even if the vast majority of those moving to the United States are fully assimilated, the primary loyalties of many will still extend beyond America. Often the second generation is even angrier, finding it difficult to reconcile conflicting loyalties.

Those whose ancestors arrived in America generations ago often find it hard to understand these differences. After all, if they integrated successfully, why can't everybody else?

The answer lies in the significant changes in U.S. immigration laws in 1965 that led to increased immigration from so-called third-world countries with radically different cultures that are harder to assimilate. In such a climate extremist views can flourish among groups, some even succumbing to violence to achieve their aims.

This extremism will only worsen if the economy continues to deteriorate and unemployment rises. Extremist political movements found Europe an ideal breeding ground for such ideas during the Great Depression of the 1930s. As many nations have learned, enemies exist without-beyond the country's borders-but enemies also live within. History shows the enemy within is the greater threat, made even more threatening if the military is overexposed internationally, leaving few forces behind to defend the homeland.

Respect replaced by disrespect

Early successes with surgical strikes against terrorist bases notwithstanding, it's highly unlikely that the terrorist problem will go away and that the world will return to the kind of normalcy that preceded Sept. 11.

Some of the reasons are explained above. Another is found in a scripture that well sums up today's reality: "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people" (Proverbs 14:34).

Time was when America was almost universally looked up to by the rest of the world. After the failure of their kings and emperors to avoid the carnage of World War I, Europeans looked to President Woodrow Wilson to show them a new and better way. But lack of support at home kept America from staying involved.

It was different after World War II. Then Americans were committed to helping the rest of the world, and the United States took on the responsibility of leading the free nations (see "America's Astounding Destiny: A Nation Losing Its Way,").

Even in the Middle East, combatants looked to the United States to assume the lead. It was President Jimmy Carter who brought Egypt and Israel to the table. Successive presidents have tried to arbitrate the region's conflicts, making efforts to talk with the several sides. But in the aftermath of September's attacks Americans saw Palestinians dancing in the streets celebrating America's agony.

Blessings and curses

Respect and appreciation for America are not as great as they used to be. The Bible helps us understand why.

In the Pentateuch the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 28, promises blessings for obedience to God's laws and curses- devastating negative consequences-for disobedience. It may seem illogical to see in this an explanation for the terrorist attacks on the United States, but the fact is that America is not as respected as it used to be. Painful though it may be to admit, there are sound reasons for this decline in respect.

The Islamic extremists who have been behind repeated attacks on U.S. embassies and government and military personnel for years fear America's cultural influence on their societies. American television shows and movies constantly undermine moral values and the traditional family, both in the United States and elsewhere.

Characters are frequently shown scantily dressed, using foul language, showing no respect to their elders and obsessed with sex and materialism. Other shows portray an image of an extremely violent society. These images are so pervasive that Western countries no longer think anything of it, but religious countries in the East feel increasingly threatened by these corrupting influences. The situation has only worsened with satellite television and the Internet becoming more widely available around the world.

News of sex scandals at the very top of American society and government has lessened respect for America's political institutions and leadership. Information on these and other scandals is also more widespread as a result of advances in communications technology during the last few years.

American culture and entertainment-its music, television shows and movies-are saturated with sex. The nation also accounts for 80 percent of the world's pornography, freely available in many countries. More than a million babies are aborted every year in the United States, innocent victims of a national obsession with pleasure free of consequences or encumbrances.

The solid principles given in Deuteronomy 28 show that obedience to God's laws results in a nation being "set ... high above all nations of the earth" (verse 1), as the United States was in the years after its humble beginnings right up until after World War II. God promises blessings for obedience, including support against hostile powers (verse 7). America's history certainly shows the nation was blessed when its people better understood and followed many of the principles of God's laws.

Beginning with verse 15, though, we see the consequences of disobedience. Verse 16 says, "Cursed shall you be in the city." When a nation rejects God, its cities are no longer safe and secure.

In verse 20 God warns that if a nation continues in its rebellion against Him He will send "cursing, confusion, and rebuke in all that you set your hand to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, because of the wickedness of your doings in which you have forsaken Me."

Individual responsibility

Many will read this article and conclude that responsibility lies elsewhere. Yet the book of Joshua, chapter 7, contains the story of one man, Achan, whose sin affected the whole nation's security. The biblical account shows that Achan himself had committed the sin of taking spoil from recently conquered Jericho, defying God's instructions to the people of Israel. Yet God judged that the entire nation< had sinned (verse 11)-and Joshua had to find the transgressor before Israel could expect another victory.

The account shows the importance of every American conducting himself in a way that is pleasing to God. Around the world, respect for America has deteriorated markedly in recent decades because of the behavior of individual Americans, either on film, in the news or in real life.

Even tourists often cause offense by showing terrible ignorance of local customs and traditions, with which they could easily familiarize themselves before leaving the United States. Often their personal conduct and moral behavior are sadly lacking. Every American needs to take upon himself the individual responsibility of representing the United States in a way that will earn respect for the country. This goes for those in the film and music industries as well, where there is a dire need for wholesome and uplifting movies and music.

Nothing can justify the cold-blooded, murderous acts of Sept. 11 and afterwards. The attacks on New York and Washington were heinous crimes against the United States and against the 80 other nations whose citizens-including many Muslims -died in the carnage while the world watched on television. These acts were inexcusable. But, as the United States and its allies embark on a long and challenging battle against the forces of international terror, this essential background knowledge will help us to better understand the overall significance of these attacks and the small ways in which individual Americans might help restore the respect the United States once had around the world. GN